Saturday, September 18, 2010

Land without fat (part 4)

Land ‘Without Fat’ is an article I wrote for a local leisure magazine exactly 3 years ago this month. For the hell of it I thought I’d take a look at it again....


Round trips: Travelling the Cape West Coast - Land ‘Without Fat’

Driving through Moorreesburg and Hopefield to Vredenburg you’ll notice that the prominent colours – of emerald green and wheat field gold – are slowly leaching out of the landscape as it becomes sparser, as the glare of white, especially as the day advances, becomes prominent. Sand, sea and sky meet here in a sometimes disorientating haziness. It’s also wilder and much more desolate than inland.

Although the Cape West Coast is at times alienating and foreign - emphasised by the dry Mediterranean climate and landscape - it’s typically off-beat South African and up until relatively recently, has remained devoid of crowds and the commercialism characteristic of South Africa’s urban areas and popular coasts.

And the pace here is much slower. Psychiatrist C. G. Jung once remarked, “Hurry is not of the Devil, it is the Devil.” If that’s the case, the Devil certainly doesn’t live on the West Coast...!

Here pervades a sense that life is more real (probably because along long this coast the seasons are hard and dramatic), that you’re somehow moving beyond the superficialities of our instant gratification culture. This is probably why the busy people of the world crave the open roads that take them to the heart of the country, or to its distant, most remote coastlines. In this case a far more arid, even desolate coastline.

Just Blue, the tunicate taxonomy and marine invertebrate research website, explains that the distribution of fauna and flora around the southern African coast is a direct result of the influence of the different water masses that flow on the west and east coasts of the southern tip of Africa.

The powerful Agulhas current (one of the most powerful in the world) flows from the Mozambique channel down the east coast of Africa bringing warm water from the sub-tropics. North of East London the continental shelf is narrow and the warm water of the Agulhas current flows close inshore. The current is steadily pushed away from the coast as the continental shelf widens and the coastal waters become slightly cooler from East London to Port Elizabeth.

The Agulhas current then swings back some 300km offshore south of Cape Agulhas where the continental shelf is at its widest. The west coast of South Africa is influenced by north drifting cold water. Events of up-welling take place when surface waters is blown offshore and cold deep water moves to the surface near the coast.

This water is rich in nutrients and enables microscopic algae (phytoplankton) and macroscopic algae (seaweed) to grow and flourish. The west coast is thus characterised by its productivity and sustains large fisheries, in comparison to the less productive but more diverse east coast.

(To continue...)

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